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F
erdinando Fuga
 (b Florence, 11 Nov 1699; d Naples, 7 Feb 1782)


18th-century painting of
the Albergo dei Poveri

I cheerfully note that the great architect, Ferdinando Fuga, and I have the same birthday! Onward. A note on Fuga in the authoritative article in the Grove Encyclopedia of Art says, "Fuga had no pupils who carried on his style; even by the second half of the 18th century, his work had ceased to arouse any interest." Maybe it is, then, an understandable destiny that of Fuga's architectural efforts in Naples, some no longer exist and two of them face uncertain futures: i.e., the mammoth Albergo dei Poveri (illustration, left) is being restored (but to what end is anyone's guess); and the great church of the Girolamini (photo, at bottom) has been closed for decades and I have heard of no plan to reopen it. It is, I think, the largest closed church in Naples.

[Rejoice! Update from 2009 here.]

Fuga was from Florence and moved to Rome to train as an architect. His career in Rome is illustrious and includes ("but is not limited to," as lawyers like to say) work on the famous Fontana di Trevi, the Palazzo Quirinale, the Palazzo della Consulta, Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte, the Palazzo Corsini, and the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. In Rome he was a truly successful architect, a member of a number of associations, and he enjoyed the patronage of two popes, Clement XII and Benedict XIV.

Fuga had worked earlier in Naples on the construction of the chapel within the Palazzo Cellammare. When the two Neapolitan court architects, Domenico Antonio Vaccaro and Ferdinando Sanfelice died in the mid 1740s, Fuga moved to Naples where he and Luigi Vanvitelli became the new royal architects for Charles III. The king was about to embark on a massive building campaign for Naples. Vanvitelli was ideally suited for that which was regal (his contributions are noted elsewhere), and Fuga was to be the architect for the great public works projects that the king had in mind.

Fuga had shown, earlier in his career great ability in converting from the ornamental requirements of the Italian Baroque and Rococo to the cleaner lines of Classicism. He had often changed his designs to fit the wishes of his patrons, showing none of the artist's resentment at meddling from the moneyed. In musical terms, if Fuga had been Mozart when the emperor told Wolfgang that he "wrote too many notes," Fuga just would have taken out the offending notes. (This, as opposed to Mozart, who apparently told His Highness to take a royal hike.) The Grove says that Fuga ran the risk of monotony since "…i
n his later work he manipulated a virtual repertory of prefabricated components, which were variously combined for each project, an economical way of working…"; yet, that is what no doubt gave Fuga his ability to handle gigantic projects such as the Albergo dei Poveri in Naples (huge, solid and functional), the naval shipyard and large municipal granary that he built for the kingdom. Most interesting, perhaps, is the "Cemetery of the 366 Trenches," (one for each day of the year) the first better-than-anonymous paupers' graveyard in Naples, where the indigent and unknown could at least be decently buried in a grave marked for the day of their death. The project was finished and went into use in 1762, remaining a functioning cemetery until 1890. (Note, however, that Fuga was also quite capable of designing to meet the highly ornamental needs of the palatial residences then in favor in Naples. See the Villa Favorita.)

Yet, if you stand in front of Fuga's last great work, his 1780 remake of the church of the Girolamini (photo, left, on via dei Tribunali, one block from the Cathedral) you can see that his heart really wasn't in prefabricated monotony. The façade looks a century older than it is—a direct throwback to the Counter-Reformation architecture of the early Baroque: the central projection of the façade, the ornate putti displaying the Ten Commandments above the entrance, and the magnificent Classical statuary of Giuseppe Sanmartino high above at both belfries (photo, left).  That is all intentional; Fuga is paying tribute here to the older church of Santa Maria in Vallicella (from 1590) in Rome, the first home of the Girolamini Order, and thus to the connection between the two seats of the order, Rome and Naples. The Naples church is more ornate, and perhaps that is as it should be. Fuga was a child of the Baroque and, yet, wound up building large, functional buildings in Naples that some would later term "pre-industrial". Maybe he got some satisfaction from going out with a splendid and anachronistic memory of his youth.


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